Ephesians 3-1-13 (audio file for download)
Open your Bibles please to Ephesians 3:1 we are going to be studying verses 1-13 today.
Before we even get started, I want you to write something down if you have a pen. I want you to write down a couple of words that come to your mind when you ask yourself this question: why does church unity matter? We will get to that later, but I wanted to ask you that before I said anything that might give away what might be a good sunday school answer.
So last week we looked at the dividing wall of hostility that Paul says was broken down through Christ. That the ones who were far off, are now brought near, and the separation brought on by nationality is no longer in effect. I’ll be honest, I felt the need to hammer on that a little bit because for one thing, all groups have dividing walls, and two, I am still kind of new here, and I see them fairly clearly. To sum it up, essentially, if you have an experience, or are involved in something that is not an explicit scriptural command, and you feel like other people need to do that too to be a real mature believer, you have a dividing wall. The two examples that I gave that I think we are prone to here are Kairos, and more in the past, the Emmaus Walk. I have seen, and felt, and had people tell me even in my brief time here so far a pressure to be involved in things because it is what Emmaus does. Let me make it clear to everyone here. What Emmaus does is follow Jesus! Everything else is optional. Not that it is not good, but it is not required. I also will say that if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and you say you want to follow Him, you will take up your cross and follow Him. So, you cant sit on the sidelines either, my point is not that you don’t have to serve Him, my point is that it doesn’t have to look like everyone else. Primarily when it comes to things that are not addressed in scripture. I do want to publicly also voice my support for Kairos. We do support both VCCW, and PCC as a church with finances, and other tangible things, but it is not a requirement that anyone participate in it, nor should anyone feel pressure to do something they aren’t called to do. To beat this dad horse further, I would compare it to this: My family is involved in Powhatan soccer. I am a coach for Micah and Nathan’s teams. We don’t play soccer because we are delusional and think they are going to make it to the pros. You can ask my Kids why we play soccer, and they have been trained to say, we play soccer to shine for Jesus. It is an outreach, it is a ministry. We are making an impact on this county in a small way. Now, how many of you would buy it if I came up here and preached that you too must be a part of Powhatan soccer, because it is something I am called to do? It would also be ridiculous, and sinful for me to give the impression to you that because you did not participator in PSA as we do, you are missing out on some special gift from the Lord.
OK, I am done with that…for now.
So, why does that matter for this week? well, As we will see, Paul fills out more of his reasons for reminding us that the wall of hostility has been torn down.
So to give you a lay of the land, Paul is closing out the first half of his letter. As I said before, the first 3 chapters of this letter are full of theology. Paul is hammering home who we are in Christ. One of the reasons he does this, and I would contend that this is the main reason, is that he is going to give us instructions in a minute, and instruction in what to do, without connecting it to who we are is how you make a Pharisee, not a follower of Christ.
Now, I will give you a little hint, the first bit of instruction on how to live that he is going to give us is about unity in the church. So, this last bit of theology focusses on who we are, and why it matters that we are unified. That brings us to the text for today.
Paul is about to close out this section of the book with another prayer and benediction, but before he starts it, he wants to make something clear. He begins to say for this reason, I bow my knees to the father, but in mid thought he says something that triggers another thought. I must say, this is a great encouragement to me, because I do this all the time. I know that there are times many of you get a little frustrated that I will have long preambles to my statements, but I feel some of what Paul might feel here, he is going to tell them something, but he needs to clarify something else first. What sparks this thought is the words, “a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” Now, you might ask why that phrase would spark this 12 verse explanation. Well, if you look ahead a little it is in verse 13, when he says, “so I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.” He Realizes that something about him saying he is a prisoner on their behalf might trigger them to lose heart. So he has a burden to drive home for them just why it is important for him to be suffering “for Them” (the Gentiles)
The Burden he feels revolves around what he keeps calling a mystery. We are going to look at this mystery in three phases: The mystery withheld, the mystery revealed to Paul, the mystery revealed to the world.
Before we do that, i want to state what the mystery is. You can find it in verse 6… Now this is important to understand, because, he is pointing to something that has been in place from eternity past, if you look at verse 11, it says it is according to His eternal purposes. SO, this mystery is something that is foundational to our faith, it is embedded into the design of creation, and it is the blueprint for Gods own self revelation.
The Mystery Withheld: He says in verse 5 that this mystery was not made known to former generations. this points to the fact that while God had been promising a deliverer, and a messiah, the exact way he was to come, and the flu extent of His salvation, specifically that he was coming for Jews, and Gentiles, was “hidden for ages” v.9 from their sight.
The Mystery revealed to Paul: in order for God to reveal this mystery to Paul, he gave him an experience. He met him on the damascus road, knocked him off his donkey, and blinded him. He spoke audibly to Paul, and revealed his mystery to him, He also revealed the mystery to the other apostles, and profits through the Holy Spirit in various ways. the point thought was that it was by special revelation. Because the cannon was not yet closed, God was giving this new revelation to them so that they would document it in scripture. Now, the Holy Spirit does not give new revelation in the scriptural sense, He magnifies what is already written as we read it. So how does God reveal this mystery to current Generations?
The Mystery Revealed to the world: How does he say that this mystery is revealed? Well, The mystery is revealed through his writing, and preaching. but the purpose of revealing it is in verse 10.
SO to walk this backwards a little bit, God wants to make known his own manyfold wisdom. His primary means of doing that is through the church! Which is referred to in chapter 2 as a dwelling place for God. And what is the revelation that brings this whole thing about? the mystery of Christ, that the Gentiles are Fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. So, let me ask you why unity in the church matters?
Let me try and boil this down for all of us if I can. Unity in the church matters because it is God’s plan for revealing the mystery of Christ to the world. When we get into his instructions on how we are to walk with one another, it is not because he wants us to all just get along, it is because His glory is at steak, His self revelation is at steak, and we are called to bring ourselves under that banner, and be partakers of that promise.
So let me ask you to do one thing this week. Before we get into practical applications, I want each of us to meditate on the fact that how we as a local church live out life together is not about us. It is about how Jesus Christ is seen to those around us. if you are in a place where you are frustrated, or hurt, or offended, don’t walk away from reconciliation because it is the easy road. take whatever time you need, but don’t turn away from God’s plan of self revelation over something silly.